Great Flicks under Heaven's Gaze

If you’re a film aficionado and a lover of surprises, the Cape Cinema, on the grounds of the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, offers a treat for you.


Fans of international art films and “indies” can count on the cinema to book the movies they won’t catch at the multiplex theaters. The schedule of films offered all summer and into the fall includes movies you’ve read about or seen reviewed but haven’t found in regular movie houses. The great thing about the Cape Cinema is that it’s so much more than the films on the screen.


The single-screen theater harks back to an era when going to the movies was an event. The antimacassar-covered upholstered seats are roomy and comfortable, and a velvet curtain covers the screen before the show starts. But what will really knock your socks off is…the ceiling.


The vaulted ceiling, more than 6,400 square feet, is covered by a mural painted by Rockwell Kent, one of America’s most talked-about painters of the 1930s. In brilliant golds and blues, the mural depicts Kent’s vision of the heavens, complete with stars, moon and galaxies, as well as human figures that float, touch and embrace among the stars. It is an amazing work, one of only three painted by the artist that is still in existence. Some claim that it is the largest single continuous mural in the world.


Raymond Moore built the cinema in 1930, just three years after opening the summer Cape Playhouse next door. Moore chose architect Alfred Easton Poor, who also designed the Wright Brothers’ Monument, with specific instructions that the structure be “intelligent and artistic.” In keeping with its peaceful pastoral setting, the façade imitates a classic New England Congregational church, while its sides evoke a cow barn.


When Moore approached Kent about the ceiling, he agreed to the project, with the caveat that he would not install the mural himself, as he had sworn never to set foot in Massachusetts again after the conviction and deaths of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927. He and his assistant designed the mural and made detailed drawings in his New York State studio, and Jo Mielziner, a well-known scenic artist, was hired to install it. But when the cinema was opened, Kent showed up after all, unable to resist seeing his completed work and receiving the resulting accolades.


Today, the Raymond Moore Foundation oversees the entire playhouse complex, which includes the Cape Museum of Fine Arts and a restaurant, as well as the playhouse and cinema. In the early 1980s, the foundation’s trustees undertook a massive restoration of the 300-seat building and mural. At that time, a state-of-the-art surround-sound system was installed, as were air conditioning and a modern concession stand.


A lot of people have heard of the Cape Playhouse – after all, it’s the nation’s oldest continually operating summer theater, and many big-name stars have appeared on its stage. But not so many know about the cinema. Make it part of your Cape Cod visit. Just be sure to get there in time to take a good look at that fabulous ceiling before the lights dim, the curtain is pulled, and you settle back to enjoy one of the powerful films the cinema offers.